An Air of Error: Prevention, Response Deterrence

Air

crashes in Nigeria are like coming of age ceremonies, where the attendees air

their closets, stride their wares, get immolated and conclude the lessons of

the day by wrapping up and behaving like it never happened. After the Dana

disaster that has claimed the lives of tens of our fellow citizens, if history

were to repeat itself we can guarantee nothing will come of it. Relatives will

wail, government will make empty promises and we the citizens will forget!

Aircraft

disasters are preventable, and should not happen. Unlike road, the air is not

congested and is often plied by professionals with thousands of hours logged in

training. Before aircraft take to the air for one to two hour trips, they are

normally subjected to rigorous checks that declare them air worthy. Under

normal circumstances, only a rare incident of once in hundred-year weather

condition should even be capable of disrupting normal take off and landing of

aircrafts; but not in an air of error: the type that whiffs the aviation corridors of

Nigeria.

There

three relative factors in play when aircraft accidents become common in any

clime; these are the prevention, the reaction and the deterrence factors in

place in such environment.

Speaking

about prevention, the reasons why the Dana air crash occurred may not be self

evident directly at the moment but the chain of incidents that led to it are

clear. First is the age of aircrafts in the Nigerian airspace. A

recent list compiled by a blogger, revealed up to 40 years old planes (Kabo

Airlines) are being flown in Nigeria! Most airlines have tokunboh airplanes

flying upwards of twenty years and coming with the risk of mechanical failures.

This

situation is directly linked to an inept regulatory system that allows these

airlines to purchase and utilize these planes (with the NCAA

director now rationalizing the 22 years old age limit for aircrafts flying

our space, commercially). Where government regulation has failed, it is time

for the market to put companies flying old aircrafts out of business, and this

is why the list now circulating is very important. Beyond regulation though is

the capital adequacy and competition issues confronted by the airline industry.

Indeed,

the liberalization of the fledgling sector in retrospect is now looking like a

terrible error. Even in better developed climes, the airline industry was

heavily regulated like a utility until recently when their financial and

manufacturing sector could handle the heavy capitalization required for

efficient operators. It will be worthwhile for our economic planners and

legislators to seriously consider reorganizing the industry, with limited

licenses and competition alongside regulated airfares that ensure predictable

returns to operators and robust funding mechanism to meet their needs. Our

economy is not ripe for unlimited competition, cut throat airline ticket prices

and bare bone market driven airline industry! We must learn to crawl before we

walk; not all theories on paper work out as planned upon practice.

Also,

the Central Bank of Nigeria working with the Ministry of Aviation should

immediately commence credit guarantee scheme to finance purchase of new

aircrafts by the few operators left under this heavily regulated regime. A

rigorous operator guideline that emphasizes rigorous safety record and

technical prequalification, robust financial wherewithal of sponsors and open

bids for the limited licenses will ensure only four to six operators that are

healthy emerge at the end of such restructuring. It will also ensure the

sponsors’ collateral can be linked by the CBN to such aircraft purchase

guarantee scheme to ensure Nigeria airlines can order

tens of new aircrafts much like their South East Asian counterparts to

service an ever growing (but more organized) domestic market.

Indeed,

a better organized aviation industry also requires brand new airports removed

from the madness of urbanization that made the Black Sunday incident a much

greater tragedy. What in heaven’s sake is an airport doing in such densely

populated area like Ikeja? Aircrafts should not fall on people’s homes! The

government of Nigeria and Lagos state seriously start doing something about

moving the airport to much saner location removed from the heart of Lagos. The

airport is old; it is an eyesore and should be decommissioned as new ones are

built at strategic locations away from the mess. The thousands of jobs created

by such effort will more than pay off for the investment, disregarding the

need, safety of travelers and image change such project will bring to Nigeria.

Speaking

about response, the emergency response on Sunday left much to be desired and

this has been the case from time immemorial.

The lack of firefighters and first aid at the site of the incident

probably killed more people than should have actually died. Tales now abound of

at least one person walking out conscious in the first twenty minutes when that

aircraft did not explode. What if we had firefighters in every neighborhood?

What will it cost the government of Goodluck Jonathan to build 2000 fire

stations across Nigeria as clear evidence of democratic dividends? What will it

cost the opposition to begin a mass movement for such demand much like the fuel

subsidy protests and not yield till we ensure no other Dana Air tragedy occurs

again, without well trained fire fighters in place?

Beyond

prevention and response however we have the deterrence factor that could ensure

the human dimensions to the Dana Air crash never occurred. When the accident

report is released, we are sure to find cases of technical and management

malfeasance. Cutting corners on aircraft maintenance, insisting clear

mechanical warnings of failure be ignored, taking to the air when the aircraft

clearly had given signs of giving away will be few amongst many. It is

important that the usual condemnation give way to prosecution this time around.

Cases of murder, manslaughter – voluntary or involuntary must be brought

against anyone involved.

This

will ensure that next, where the choice is between losing your job and going to

jail for life, the staff of airline operators in Nigeria would have learned the

lessons of this air crash incidence and err on the side of being a

whistleblower. Whistleblower funds should also be explored, to enable folks

working inside this airlines give early warning signs to regulators about the

management errors that brings this tragedy at regular intervals on our nation.

Last

but not the least; the government must be commended for immediately withdrawing

the license of Dana Airlines. That is good enough deterrence for other airline

operators; fly a plane that crash at the risk of being put out of business

completely and immediately. We must go further though than these knee jerk

reactions though, and ensure complete investigation and appropriate actions to

prevent further loss of lives in our airline industry.

God

bless Nigeria and comfort the families of those whose lives were lost.

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